Between 1900 and 1920, more than 3 million immigrants came to Canada. Sometimes, they came over as entire families, but there were also many men who had to leave wives and children behind until enough money could be saved up to pay for their passages.
Such was the case with my great grandfather, Roman MISCOVITCH. So far, I know little about his early life. However, after he immigrated to Canada in 1913, a few official documents were created, and they give us some interesting information.
He was born on August 13, 1888, in western Russia (now Belarus). Secondary sources vary as to the exact town, but I think it's safe to say it was somewhere in Grodno Province. When he arrived in Canada, he told the officials that he was married, with the occupation of "farmer". His stated destination was Fernie, BC. There are other names on the passenger lists that could be distant relatives, but his wife and child (Grandpa was born in 1911) did not travel with him.
So here we have the classic tale of separation. The Old Country farm is in trouble (and so is the Old Country, come to that) and the men of the village hear rumours about rich farm land free for the taking in the New World. The fathers mount their horses, climb into carts, or strap on their walking boots. Roman would have waved goodbye to his wife, Paulina, and his one-year-old son, John, and started his journey to the port at Hamburg. Were there tears, kisses, and promises to write? Or was it "chin up and see you soon"?
From Hamburg, the vessel "President Lincoln" carried Roman to Halifax, where he arrived at Pier 21 on April 20, 1913. From there, he traveled overland (likely by rail) to Fernie. He found work in the various mines in the area, first as a miner, then as a timber-man. He worked in Michel/Natal, and at Coal Creek. In the 1921 census, we find Roman working at "Baker's Camp" near Waldo, BC.
The mines and camps were as rough as you'd expect. Mining accidents were common, and the workers were agitating to improve pay and working conditions. At some point during Roman's time in the camps, there was a fire that destroyed everything, including his identification and immigration papers.
It wasn't until 1925 that he had earned enough money to send for his wife and son. More than twelve years apart! He had missed so much of his son's childhood, so many of his "firsts". Were there letters back and forth to his wife? Photos? Perhaps. Perhaps not. They were, after all, working class people with their hands full of the matter of survival. As the Great War raged in the Old Country, borders had moved across the farmlands and back again. Roman's wife and son likely lived near family, but I imagine that he still would have worried about them as reports of assassinations, influenza, and revolutions made their way to the Kootenay newspapers. Roman couldn't read or write English well, but one of his co-workers would doubtless have kept him informed.
And at long last, what an occasion when Roman's family finally arrived in town, just before Christmas in 1925! Would he have recognized them? Certainly not John, who was by then a teenager. His wife would have changed, too. She had been a teenager when they married and only 19 years old when she had their son. By the time she arrived in Fernie, she was 33 years old, and the years of worry and fear were indelibly stamped on her face.
No matter. The family of three settled into a rented house, Johnny enrolled at the local school, and soon they were a family of four. Roman and Paulina had a baby girl named Helen, some time around 1927.
The family grew again. Johnny married Nellie Adamski, the girl next door, and soon Roman had three grandchildren to dote on. Helen grew up and married as well, and then there were six grandchildren.
He passed away in 1963 in Fernie after a few years of heart trouble. He and Paulina are buried at St. Margaret's Cemetary in Fernie, BC.